Look really hard at a $5


August 10, 2012

Get a $5 bill from your piggy bank (or ask a parent if you can borrow one). A $5 bill lasts for almost four years, until the ink starts wearing off and it gets crumpled up and loses its texture. Banks return old bills to the Federal Reserve, which then destroys them. In 2006, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing started redesigning the $5 bill, and the new version started being used in 2008. In the old $5 bill, Lincoln’s head was in an oval, and not much of his shoulders could be seen. The changes were minor, but they made it harder for anyone to make fake money. The BEP is in the process of redesigning the $100 bill!

On the front of the bill, you will see a letter (from A to L) and a number (from 1 to 12) together near the left edge. This code indicates which Federal Reserve bank received that bill when it was made. For example, this bill marked “L12” was delivered to San Francisco, California.

At the bottom left of the bill, just to the right of the 5, is a tiny letter and number. That tells the worker making the money what position the bill had on the big sheet of paper.

Each $5 bill has a unique serial number, which is a combination of 11 letters and numbers that is printed twice on the front of the bill, in the upper left and lower right.

Now, hold the front of the bill up to the light. On the right, can you see a big number five? And to the left of Lincoln’s ear, can you see three fives stacked on top of each other? Those hidden fives are called watermarks. They are pressed into the paper when it is made at a factory that provides blank sheets to the BEP.

You’ll need a magnifying glass again to see the words “five dollars” in the teardrop shapes that border the left and right of the bill.

You’ll also need a magnifying glass to see the “USA” between the columns of the eagle’s shield.

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